Katusha's Luca Paolini's long-awaited debut at the Giro d'Italia turned magical Monday when he attacked on the descent to Marina di Ascea and came over the line solo to win the 2013 race's third stage. Paolini, a 36-year-old classics star and winner of this year's Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, had never in his long career found himself at the start of his nation's greatest race as a consequence of his specialty in the April classics. But that all changed this season, and thanks to his classics-style tactical agression and the Giro's time bonus system, Paolini has donned the maglia rosa as the race leader.
The stage itself was even more entertaining than predicted, as the final two climbs were more than enough to unhitch the sprinters and leave the battle to the overall contenders. For much of the day a break was several minutes away, including Fabio Taborre of Vini Fantini, who dropped his companions on the Sella di Catona climb before being reeled in by the peloton before the summit. In the process, things got busy for the heads of state, as Garmin-Sharp's Ryder Hesjedal, last year's Giro champion, attacked Team Sky and Bradley Wiggins (overnight leader Salvatore Puccio of Sky had been dropped and lost his jersey), showing some early form, interesting tactics, and maybe even a little concern about his chances versus Wiggins in next Saturday's time trial. Hesjedal could not stay away, however, with Vincenzo Nibali's Astana squad reeling him in.
From there the decent was on, where Nibali and Hesjedal continued to press the matter, placing Wiggins and others under great pressure on the tricky downhill. But it was Team Blanco and Lampre's Michele Scarponi who cracked, sliding out with Steven Kruijswijk and nearly taking down Blanco's leader Robert Gesink. Meanwhile, Paolini struck out alone with 3 km to go, an advantage he held to win by 16 seconds. With the 20-second time bonus Paolini had enough time to get into pink. Cadel Evans of BMC won the sprint for second (and twelve seconds), followed by Hesjedal in third and taking eight seconds.
- Luca Paolini, Katusha
- Cadel Evans, BMC, at 0.16
- Ryder Hesjedal, Garmin, s.t.
- Bradley Wiggins, Sky, at 0.17
- Rigoberto Uran, Sky, s.t.
Bonus Classification: TV!
Each day the Giro d'Italia hands out an array of prizes that would make a U7 tee ball league look parsimonious. All of these prizes wind up making perfect sense, once you think about them. So here's one to think about... the Traguardo Volante! Known as the TV, it has nothing much to do with broadcasting, but rather it's a random sprint point where the race gives out a handful of points (5-4-3-2-1) to the first five riders to arrive each day. Fabio Taborre led the way across the TV line, but overall Cannondale's Cameron Wurf holds an advantage.
- Cameron Wurf, Cannondale, 8 points
- Bert De Backer, Argos-Shimano, 7
- Willem Wauters, Vacansoleil, 7
Tuesday's long stage to Serra San Bruno is another "medio montagna" day, with a long climb of 12km up the Croce Ferrara, a slope that hits 10% but averages only 5% or so. There will be an opportunity for more gamesmanship among the favorites, but there is also a finishing descent (albeit short) for someone less obvious to sneak away. Also, at 246km, it's possible an escape will be left to take the stage. My guess is that the heads of state won't be quite as feisty this time around.